tuitionPaying college tuition is still pretty tough. The federal government is still lending money, but private loans by big banks have been hit hard due to the recession and Wall Street’s financial crisis. Some big providers of secondary education loans have pulled out of the market entirely.

So TuitionU.com is announcing today that it is setting up an extended tuition payment program with lender National Lending Associates. The idea is to stretch payments out to as much as 10 years. Normal tuition loans have to be paid in 10 months, meaning the student has to make payments of $1,000 a month. With a 10 year loan, payments on a $10,000 loan are more like $108, depending on interest rate.

“We estimate the need for alternative funding is out there,” said Brian Cox, chief business development officer at TuitionU.com. “A lot of people used to pay for college through home equity loans, but those are much harder to get now.”

The TuitionFlex program is just getting started. TuitionU.com, a division of four-year-old startup Cology, now has to get colleges to participate. By next year, the company hopes to be able to offer loans from a variety of lenders using the TuitionFlex program. Schools can check out the loan program at TuitionU.com’s site. About a dozen schools are participating in the TuitionFlex program already via National Lending Associates in San Diego, Calif.

Cology makes money by charging loan origination fees that it handles for its student loan lenders. TuitionU.com is a site that students can use to find loans. TuitionU.com got started a year ago. In 2008, 15 lenders offered $125 million in loans to students. This year, the site has more than 100 lenders who are offering $400 million in loans, said Cox.

Many of the lenders are credit unions that offer loans with interest rates as low as 6 percent; the standard Stafford federal loan has a fixed interest rate of 6.8 percent. The site also offers peer-to-peer lending, thanks in part to its acquisition in March of GreenNote.com, a peer-to-peer lending company modeled after micro-loan bank, Grameen Bank.

Cox said Cology has 43 employees, with five of them dedicated to TuitionU.com. Cology raised a small angel round four years ago, but the company is profitable and is not currently seeking venture capital. Rivals include SimpleTuition.com, but that company is not offering an extended tuition loan program. A number of other education-related startups have collapsed as a result of the financial crisis.